A psychological examination of Luther’s revolt

This coming year will mark the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses onto the door of the collegiate church of Wittenberg, traditionally regarded as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

It has been a cause of some concern and consternation for many Catholics to have learned that there will be Catholic (even papal) participation in various events connected to this anniversary. What could be celebrated? The break-up of Catholic unity? The demise of Christendom? The impetus for rationalism and secularism?

To commemorate, perhaps, but surely not to celebrate. Even many serious Protestant clergy and theologians have insisted that one must not celebrate something that brought on such dire (and probably undesired, unforeseen) consequences. To commemorate would necessarily mean studying the causes and the unfolding of events – learning from the errors and repenting of the sins of any and all that rent the seamless garment of Christ.

This is no more and no less than what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council urged and what St. John Paul II often referred to as “the healing of memories.” Which means genuine honesty. That honesty was carried on in spades at the Council of Trent and in the Counter-Reformation, both of which admitted that true problems had crept into the Church and needed correction.

Since Luther is such a pivotal character in the drama of the sixteenth century, it behooves all to put him under the microscope for closer observation. To be sure, Luther was a brilliant theologian. He was also deeply imbued with the understanding of the absolute holiness of God, the centrality of Christ in the work of our salvation, and the concomitant need for the Church to be the spotless Bride of the Redeemer which St. Paul calls her. Continue reading

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